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New EPA rules target Georgia legacy coal-ash ponds

Credit: iStock

By Shanteya Hudson

Wednesday, May 1, 2024   

The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a rule to close a significant loophole in coal ash disposal regulations.

The Coal Combustion Residuals Rule targets millions of tons of toxic coal ash previously exempt from federal oversight, including the 19 legacy coal ash ponds and landfills in Georgia. For decades, utilities have disposed of coal ash by dumping it in unlined ponds and landfills where the toxins leak into groundwater.

Dori Jaffe, managing attorney for the Environmental Law Program at the Sierra Club, hailed the EPA’s decision as a significant victory for communities impacted by coal ash pollution.

“They now will also have to comply with certain requirements regarding groundwater monitoring, corrective action, closure and post-closure care of those units,” Jaffe explained.

The rule comes as part of a comprehensive effort by the EPA to tackle pollution from power plants. Alongside the new rule, the agency announced three other regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions, wastewater pollution and toxic air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

According to the EPA, coal ash is a byproduct of coal-fired power plants with a hazardous mix of pollutants and carcinogens. The pollutants found in coal ash are linked to myriad health conditions from cancer to reproductive failure, and pose grave risks to both human and environmental health.

Jaffe underscored the significance of the regulations in holding utilities accountable and pushing for cleaner energy solutions.

“There have been some concerns in the past regarding how EPA is issuing those permits because they are allowing coal ash ponds to be closed in place where the coal ash continues to be saturated with groundwater,” Jaffe pointed out. “Which means it’s still going to be able to leave that pond, go out into the groundwater and contaminate potentially public water supply sources.”

She emphasized Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division will not be able to issue permits for closure plans regarding the coal ash ponds but will have to seek permission from the EPA.

Moving forward, Jaffe is concerned about how the rules will be implemented. However, she added it is a great step in protecting communities and the environment from the harmful effects of coal ash.

Disclosure: The Sierra Club contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, and Environmental Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

This story is republished from Public News Service (PNS) under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.